A slice of native paradise is not what you expect to find in a capital’s inner city, but Wellington’s Zealandia, which is a dam that has been returned to its natural state, and was formerly called the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary, is exactly that.
It is really just a few minutes by car from downtown Wellington, along quite an attractive drive. You’ll find it nestled in a forested valley between city suburbs. Zealandia is an outdoor haven for some of New Zealand’s rarest native birds and animals, and a living monument to world-leading conservation efforts.
‘Zealandia’ is the name of the lost landmass that broke away from the ancient super-continent Gondwana some 80 million years ago.
The multi-million dollar project to create a predator-free eco-sanctuary was inspired by a vision to return part of the city to its pre-human condition, going back over a thousand years ago when the islands of New Zealand were a sanctuary for unique species that had survived from prehistoric days.
Zealandia is a mainland island that has been modelled on New Zealand’s many successful island conservation programmes. Much effort has gone into protecting it from introduced predators such as possums, stoats, cats and rats, including the installation of kilometres of state-of-the-art exterior fencing.
Native flora and fauna have been reintroduced into the sanctuary, and native birdlife has also been boosted as birds have found their way into the protected island and begun to breed.
The inhabitants include New Zealand’s rare ‘living dinosaur’ tuatara, the ferocious giant weta insect, and threatened birds like the flightless kiwi, and brown teal duck – one of the world’s rarest ducks – which are all at risk in the wild.
In the park, over 35 kilometres of bush tracks and paths criss-cross 225 hectares of regenerating forest and wetlands, providing walks and activities for visitors of all ages and fitness levels
I was fortunate enough to do a night tour of the facility, and given that many of New Zealand’s indigenous species are nocturnal, night time is the most authentic time to visit. You do seem to cover many kilometres on hilly tracks in the darkness, but when you see kiwis, tuataras and other species going about their normal business the effort is definitely worth it.
The islands of New Zealand are virtually all that remains of Gondwana, and Zealandia provides the perfect habitat for animals and plants found nowhere else on Earth.